Environmental groups' legal threat 'silences' officials on Tai Po beach plans
Christine Loh blames prospect of legal action for refusal to answer lawmakers' questions
The government cannot answer some questions from lawmakers about a planned artificial beach in Tai Po because of legal action planned by environmental groups, the undersecretary for the environment said yesterday.
Christine Loh Kung-wai was speaking as she and other officials continued to defend the plan for the beach on the shores of Tolo Harbour at Lung Mei while lawmakers raised questions about water quality and potential harm to marine life.
"There's something that makes me very uncomfortable today. There're things that we can't answer, and that might give an impression to the public that we are evading the questions or we know nothing about them. But this is not true," Loh said at a Legislative Council joint panel meeting discussing the plan.
"Some organisations were talking about a judicial review. This has made us unable to say anything," she said.
Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen, who represents the architectural, surveying and planning sector, had asked whether the government's environmental impact assessment report underestimated the site's ecological value.
A coalition of at least 30 organisations opposed to the beach plan said last month they might seek a judicial review of the director of environmental protection's decision to issue a permit for the construction.
The coalition says the Civil Engineering and Development Department provided misleading information that underestimated the rich marine ecosystem at Lung Mei in order to obtain the permit in 2010.
Legislator Gary Fan Kwok-wai, of the NeoDemocrats, asked if Loh's words meant the government could avoid answering questions whenever someone said he was considering legal action, even if he had not taken any real action yet.
Lam Tai-fai, representing an industrial functional constituency, said the government should not fear a judicial review and should say what it knew to convince environmental groups it was making the right move.
Loh said the Environment Bureau would organise a meeting soon on conservation plans for the Ting Kok coastline - where creatures from Lung Mei would be moved under the government's proposal - and the nearby site of special scientific interest.